Road Rage – a modern phenomenon?

The more things change the more they stay the same.

Almost 50 years on from my time as a reporter in Basildon, Essex, I have been looking at my scrap books of stories I had written then and think how often the same things happen now and the bad ones are often worse than in my youth.

For example, take road rage.

Almost every day there is a case of this modern phenomenon reported in the news, whether it is on TV or radio or in the national or regional newspapers.

Yet when did it first occur?

The term road rage is first recorded in the 1980s in America where rage of any sort can soon reach a lethal level – possibly due to the high rate of gun ownership. One of the earliest known references comes from a Florida newspaper The St Petersburg Times, in April 1988:  “A fit of ‘road rage’ has landed a man in jail, accused of shooting a woman passenger who’s [sic] car had ‘cut him off’ on the highway.”

John Cleese as Basil Fawlty about to get mad with his motor in the 1975 TV series Fawlty Towers

In the UK we did not see angry altercations between motorists being described as road rage until the 1990s, not that this means it had not happened before. Consider the brilliant 1970s TV series Fawlty Towers when the inimitable John Cleese was angered by his car and ended up lashing out at it with a leafy tree branch.

In January 1973 I wrote up a court case for the Basildon Standard Recorder about a 30-something motorist who dragged a 60-something delivery driver out of his van and left him lying in a pool of blood on the tarmac. All this because the traffic ahead of both vehicles had come to a halt.

The sub wrote the headline:

Angry motorist dragged

van driver from cab

Nowadays it would have been:

Road rage thug drags

driver, 63, from van

I do not, however, think that road rage itself came to be in the 20th century.

I’m sure there must have been an 18th or 19th century young buck hurtling along the roads of rural England in his two-wheeled chaise, pulled by a thoroughbred horse, who lost his temper with a yokel driving a fully-laden haywain at a plodding pace.

Going even further back the mediaeval barons probably ordered their drivers to force any peasant pushing a hand cart into the ditch.

In these cases the victims of road rage had very little redress against their lords and masters. Nowadays an angry driver intending to berate another denizen of the highway is just as likely to be faced by an even angrier driver, possibly with a hefty wheel nut wrench in his hand.

If you do find yourself involved in a case of road rage I suggest you lock your doors and keep your windows closed and have your mobile ready to dial 999 – making sure the road rager can see what you’re doing.

Stay safe.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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